This evening, UNC will take on Cinderella story, Saint Peter’s with a spot in the Final Four on the line. Carolina advanced to the Elite Eight, after dispatching UCLA on Friday night, behind a sensational second performance from Caleb Love. This is the 29th time the Tar Heels have competed in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament, which is the second-most in college basketball. This is most surprising to the Elite Eight, since 2000, when Carolina also made it as an 8 seed, just like this year.
Saint Peter’s have become the darlings of March Madness, as they are the first-ever 15 seed to advance to the Elite Eight. The Peacocks, have upset Kentucky, Murray State, and Purdue, and are now just one win away from the Final Four. They enter with a 22-11 record and have won 10 straight games going back to the end of the regular season, them winning their conference tournament, and their 3 wins in the Big Dance. They are led in scoring by Dary Banks III, as he averages 11.5 points per game. KC Ndefo is the only other Peacock to average double figures at 10.5 points per game. Saint Peter’s is a quality defensive team, as they only allow 20 made field goals per game, which is the second-fewest in college basketball. Teams are only shooting 39% from the field against the Peacocks, which is the 6th best in the country. They only allow 5.6 made triples per game which are 21st in college basketball, and just 29% from behind the arc, which is 14th best in the sport.
Carolina’s run to the Elite Eight was unlikely given their draw to get to this point of the tournament, but this is a team that has lost just 3 times since February and is as hot, and confident as any team left playing. Here’s how they can punch their ticket to their 21st appearance in the Final Four:
Don’t Overlook Saint Peter’s: At this point, the Peacocks aren’t a secret anymore, but that hasn’t stopped teams from overlooking the small Jesuit school from Jersey City. They are going to be riding another wave of emotion from Friday’s upset of Purdue, and even with a respectable Tar Heel contingent in Philadelphia, the building will be behind the Cinderella story of this tournament. Carolina needs to be prepared to fight for 40 minutes, and maybe more.
Dominate the Paint: As you could expect, the Peacocks don’t have the size you’d usually see a team in the Elite Eight have, as the tallest player in the starting lineup is 6-7. With that in mind though, as Kentucky and Purdue learned, it is hard to get the ball inside, the way they defend on the perimeter. With that in mind, Carolina needs to be determined to play through Armando Bacot, and Brady Manek whenever he posts up on the block, as they don’t have a natural matchup to defend either Bacot or Manek.
3 Point Shooting: Saint Peter’s defends the three-point line, as well as any team, left playing in the tournament. They only allow 5 makes per game and just 29% from behind the arc. Carolina has made 10 or more triples in every game so far in their run to the Elite Eight, so something has to give. On Friday night, it was Caleb Love pacing Carolina with 6 makes, but today it will have to be a total team effort, as the Peacocks are going to lock down the perimeter, as well as any team Carolina has seen this season.
Tempo: The Peacocks may play more total players than Carolina does, but that doesn’t mean they want to run up and down the court with Carolina. That means that Love and R.J. Davis need to make a conscious effort to get the ball up the court in a quick manner and have the game played at UNC’s desired pace. The more possessions, the more likely it is that Carolina advances to the Final Four.
UNC in the Elite Eight: This is the 28th regional final Carolina has competed in, and they are an impressive 20-7 in previous games. This marks the second time Carolina has competed in a regional final as an 8 seed, the other time being in 2000. Carolina most recently won regional finals in 2016, and 2017, on their way to back-to-back national title game appearances.
Series History: This is the first-ever meeting between Carolina, and Saint Peter’s.
UNC - 18th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 114.4 (19th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 95.2 (42nd)
Saint Peter’s - 98th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 100.9 (216th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 92.9 (25th)
TV Info: Today’s game will tip-off at 5:05 on CBS.
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